Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Syrian war survivors share their stories at USF

TAMPA — The 6-year-old girl had been hugging her sister when the mortars exploded near their home in Syria. The shells leveled the house, and killed everyone in it except for the 6-year-old, who survived because her sister's body shielded her from the shrapnel.

The story was one of several told Saturday afternoon by survivors of the Syrian civil war during "Voices From Syria," a program at the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center.

Ameenah Sawwan, a 23-year-old woman from Mo'addamia, Syria, told the story in halting English as the little girl's face displayed on the projector screen behind her.

The right side of the girl's face was pocked in scars from the explosions that killed her family. She smiled for the camera, though, and made peace signs with both her hands, which were also scarred. After telling the girl's story, Sawwan told the crowd that she often gets asked if she has lost hope the rebels can eventually overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

"Just look at their eyes. The eyes of the people who survived," she said she tells them. "The people, inside, they are so powerful. They are a source of inspiration."

Sawwan was joined by four other Syrian war survivors Saturday. They are part of a tour sponsored by organizations with ties to the nation, and they are traveling the world and telling their stories in the hopes of building support for military intervention on behalf of rebel forces. While some rebel factions have also been accused of war crimes, stories told by Sawwan and the others focused on acts committed by Assad's government.

Hiba Sawwan, 24 — Ameenah's cousin — told the crowd how she had planned to marry her cousin last year in January, but he was killed (she didn't say how) three hours before their wedding. Hiba also talked of the impact felt when Assad's forces seized her town and blocked the flow of food shipments. The people starved, and she became used to waking to the cries of hungry children wandering the streets.

"The suffering was more stronger than us, maybe," she said.

Muhammed Khair Alwazech, 36, from Douma, spoke through a translator. He compared the chemical weapons attacks he said he witnessed committed by Assad's government to a farmer using DDT to wipe out mosquitos. He talked of being arrested and tortured, because he worked with rebel forces.

While he was away from his pregnant wife, he said, she was wounded in a mortar attack, and needed blood. His wife had blood type O-negative, which is rare. Alwazech was able to get some of her blood type, and drove as fast as he could across the country, surviving several bouts of gunfire, only to arrive too late.

His wife had died, but the doctor was able to save the baby, his son. The family probably will not celebrate the boy's birthday, Alwazech said.

He finished by urging those in the crowd to tell the stories they heard Saturday to others.

"My story is just one of hundreds of thousands," Alwazech said. "The people of Syria desperately need your help."

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or

Syrian war survivors share their stories at USF 02/08/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 11:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Coast Guard airlifts man from fishing boat in Gulf of Mexico

    Public Safety

    A 27-year-old man was evacuated from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Saturday night, authorities said.

  2. Trump: Not 'that far off' from passing health overhaul


    WASHINGTON — Making a final push, President Donald Trump said he doesn't think congressional Republicans are "that far off" on a health overhaul to replace "the dead carcass of Obamacare." Expressing frustration, he complained about "the level of hostility" in government and wondered why both parties can't work …

    President Donald Trump speaks during a bill signing event for the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017" in the East Room of the White House, Friday, June 23, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) DCEV208
  3. Erin Andrews, ex-NHL player Jarret Stoll marry in Montana


    NEW YORK — Sportscaster Erin Andrews and former NHL player Jarret Stoll have tied the knot.

    FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016 file photo, Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews, left, speaks with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Atlanta. Jennifer Allen, a publicist for Andrews, confirms Sunday, June 25, 2017, that the 38-year-old Fox Sports sideline reporter and ???‚??“Dancing with the Stars???‚?? co-host married the 35-year-old Stoll over the weekend.  (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) NYSP103
  4. Amid FBI probe of Tallahassee, Gillum says GOP trying to 'put as much dirt on me as they can'


    Tallahassee mayor and candidate for governor Andrew Gillum might like his supporters to think a federal investigation into development deals in his city is political – but …

    Andrew Gillum
  5. Tampa pedestrian struck, killed near Temple Terrace


    A Tampa woman was killed Saturday night after she was hit by a car while walking near Temple Terrace.